Greens in government?

Life working for the Green Party in Scotland

Green politics in Scotland have come a long way in the last ten years - then, we had no-one elected to anything, and now we’re going into today's election holding 7 seats out of 129.

The group we got elected last time have proved themselves very capable, even though four
years ago many of them had no idea they were about to become parliamentarians. We’re also the only party to come through the 2003-2007 session without any scandals, which may or may not help us!

What’s more, as many of our European colleagues have been previously, we’re on the brink of a possible role in government. Over the last month the Daily Mail has been alarming its readers with polls that show
the Greens getting up to 11 seats.

I have a love-hate relationship with elections. There’s an intense camaraderie within the team, and even though the public don’t appear to have picked it up yet, it’s certainly very exciting for an insider.
It's also a particular professional delight when you see a speech you’ve helped write appear as the Press Association’s quote of the day.

I’ve had three so far, ahead of my two Green media colleagues, as it happens.

However, modern electioneering could have been designed to cause sleep deprivation. The day starts early with radio news - Good Morning Scotland unless we know we’re on Today - followed by the review of the
cuttings and into the day’s action.

It’s a long run through to Newsnight Scotland, which starts at 11am. The opt-out from network Newsnight was a bodged solution, flawed because Scots always miss the last item from London, but their team is
the cream of the crop of Scottish BBC, and they have the best analysis and inside tips. The day’s not even over when they finish at 11.30, though, because some of the papers come online early, before 1am.

All of which means that the long section in the middle, the actual work, is usually done in that curious mix of energy and exhaustion. And if the Mail’s right, it’s not even going to be over on election night. Greens in government in the UK? You heard it here first.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear